The Most Unlikely Muse: Bill Ripley

As Reviewed By: David J. Rothman
Read David Rothman’s elegy here: “Going Like Hello”

“All I want to do is have a little fun before I die.” -Bill Ripley

“All I want to do is have a little fun

Before I die,” says the man next to me

Out of nowhere, apropos of nothing.He says

His name’s William but I’m sure he’s Bill

Or Billy, Mac or Buddy; He’s plain ugly to me,

And I wonder if he’s ever had fun in his life.

-Wyn Cooper

Sometime around dawn on September 5, 2006, Bill Ripley died at his home near Clear Lake in northern California. Writing that sentence feels like carrying a heavy bucket of water, with the strange sensation that when I look into it, there’s nothing there. He was only 61. I almost still expect him to call tomorrow, saying he was just lying down and out of breath.

[private]Bill was both wild and gentle. A gifted writer who never fulfilled his potential-he pissed most of it away, publishing only one novel and a handful of stories in the journals-he affected many who know him rather like getting hit by a meteor. He also inspired one of the best-known American lyrical poems of the 1990s, maybe of the last fifty years. Even people who don’t read poetry or like it-scores of millions of those people-know parts of Wyn Cooper’s poem about Bill so well they can quote it, often without knowing its source, and definitely without knowing its background. This means you.

Thanks to Sheryl Crow’s setting of Wyn’s poem “Fun,” which uses Bill’s words as a springboard, the reimagined story of a Tuesday afternoon Bill and Wyn spent together in a Salt Lake City bar has already achieved what most poets desire, but never achieve: anonymous fame. Just as most speakers of English know the phrase “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing” without being able to complete Pope’s couplet, or can talk about “ships that pass in the night” without having even read Longfellow, or might call a couple “star-cross’d lovers” without remembering the phrase comes from Romeo and Juliet, a good number of people quote Billy and Wyn without even realizing it. The words capture and convey something so true, or so real, that the author just fades away. They’ve become part of the language. What an honor. Wyn has achieved something every poet should desire, speaking for people, not merely to them. Bill-and friendship with Bill-was a subject worthy of that success, and Wyn is one of the few living poets to earn such a crown.

Let me explain.

The first time I met Bill I was at my desk, studiously doing something now long-forgotten, when he lumbered up and introduced himself. It was 1982 and I was a first-semester Teaching Assistant in the English Department’s MA program at the University of Utah. So there was this enormous, nervous, friendly guy announcing he was my desk partner, after which he suddenly left. He was wearing a tweed jacket several sizes too small and I remember he didn’t look me in the eye. Probably sizing me up to see if I was a jerk. He didn’t like hanging around there much anyways.

Bill was big. He was supposed to play football at Harvard, where he was in the class of ’67, though with all the personal and political chaos swirling around in those days he didn’t graduate until 1969.But no wonder they wanted him to play. At Wheat Ridge High School, near Denver, Bill had lettered in track and quarterbacked the team that won the state championship when he was a senior, though he took a bad hit in the championship game and his knee was never the same. As I recall, he used to say he was part Cherokee and part German and English. He’d been raised in Texas by his grandfather, a judge and attorney, then moved to Colorado, where his mother had married a State Senator who later became a US Congressman.

Bill kicked around for a decade or so after Harvard, raising one kind of hell or another. According to his sister, Elizabeth McVicker, he went to law school for a year at the University of Colorado, writing his criminal law final on how the concept of a crime against the state was absurd and how the separation of law into civil and criminal jurisdictions makes no sense. In retrospect, not surprising. He used to tell me he’d started a construction company somewhere around Denver called Mammoth Erection, and for fun on weekends he used to eat LSD, head out to Stapleton airport, sneak onto a runway and lie down between the stripes-on the runway-to watch big planes take off. I had no reason not to believe him-maybe that’s why he liked me. And since then, calling on my training as a scholar, I have verified all of this independently.

By the time he was 30, Bill had entered into and then fallen out of a marriage to a woman named Kathy Clark, adopting his wife’s young son, Jerry, and siring one of his own, Brandon, with her.  He’d completed an MFA in Fiction at the University of Texas at El Paso, then gone on for a creative PhD in Fiction at Utah. He was six feet tall and at 38 still had some of his athletic frame. He also had grown a big round drinker’s belly that he lovingly referred to as “the orb. “I’d say he was about 50% larger than me. He had a round face, deeply pockmarked by acne and a shock of pepper-and-salt hair. A beautiful guy.

I’ve never felt completely comfortable in academe, and have been in and out of it my entire life. Bill didn’t exactly fit in either. So perhaps for some not so obscure reasons that nevertheless run deep into unexamined psychic muck, Bill and I hit it off. Soon I started hanging out at the house he was renting a few blocks from the University. The reason we would go there as opposed to my downtown garret was that wherever Bill went, fun followed like a pack of dogs. It was just more fun at Bill’s.Fun was his vocation, he labored at it, and it is no sin for a man to labor in his vocation. Sometimes those parties were a little, shall we say, exuberant, but the visitors were always interesting, at least until they lost consciousness.

What a time that was. There were a lot of funny, bright people around. I felt a bit like an anthropologist. I’d already seen plenty of the effects of drug and alcohol abuse among family and friends and didn’t have much stomach for it any more. So I mostly watched when other people were starting into another fifth of Jack, rolling joints and dollar bills, loading syringes, or running away from it all, scared out of their wits.

Bill read omnivorously and his fiction had a funny, tender, snarling, insightful, snappy quality that I’d never seen quite anywhere else. He had the gift. He was a splendid liar. His one published novel, Prisoners (Atlantic Monthly Press, 1988) opens with a typical Ripley salvo:

It is getting increasingly difficult to have a little fun without ticking somebody off. Either you’re spending their money or fiddling with their wives or, bingo, you do too much coke and can’t get it up with a Yugoslav gymnast who looks like Geraldine Chaplin. Something is amiss, thinks Danny Devoto as he crosses the Sunset Strip, wishing he were back in Buffalo eating black snow. Something is out of whack.

Sound familiar? But Danny is only one character, and a page later we meet Hugo Daley, who sprouts from another part of Bill’s past:

Money’s been a problem ever since a linebacker crushed Hugo’s left knee just as he’d nailed down a full ride to Oklahoma. That’s when the tomato started to rot. And some days the whole ceiling of the health club reddens as he strains to recall a patch of blue sky he’d glimpsed over his shoulder one bright afternoon as he turned to catch a lovely pass for a touchdown. He’d sort of floated across the goal line. In that blue sky was promise, glory. But it ain’t there anymore.

He sells Yellow Page ads across West Texas…

And on it goes, thickening and bubbling, drugs, porno stars, road trips, confusion, violence, money, love, loss, American wildness. All of Ripley’s characters come across in the same way-a few quick strokes, an underlying sense of the absurd, a concrete situation-and then they go into a narrative blender that’s part Elmore Leonard, part Hunter Thompson, part Jane Austen-yes, Austen, as Ripley’s stories are comedies of manners, albeit very bad manners.

The reviews-which appeared widely-were mixed, generally admiring but rather confounded, and as I reread it now, I can see why, though I still think it’s a good novel. As Larry Levis, who was teaching at Utah in those days and part of our group, once said, “Bill’s a good writer, but his problem is that all he wants to talk about is cocaine, blowjobs, and hitchhikers.” Maybe. I think the book is better than that. As Bill once wrote me when he forwarded a bunch of notices, “The careful thematic and imagistic connections…seem to be lost on these reviewers who demand a conventional story line, probably because they have to read so much so quickly. I am a little irked. Also nothing is said about kindness, which I thought was a central issue…”True, I think.

I don’t remember the order in which everything happened-and it’s not that it matters, as it was all picaresque. Bill’s life seemed to be an endless stream of absurd adventures, of which I participated in only a few. It was creative and fun just to be with Bill. Well, most of the time. In my view, if every day were a holiday, then fun would be as tedious as work. But that’s another story.

To begin with I remember time after time watching in disbelief as Bill took another sip of Jack Daniels from a 16-ounce plastic cup he held in one hand as he drove his enormous rusting white Ambassador with the other. He drank that stuff like orange juice.

I do recall that on my 24th birthday we got drunk and when he learned I’d never been to a brothel he roared with indignation, threw me in his car and bee-lined for the Sultan’s Palace, where in the dark parking lot he tossed me over his shoulder, stumbled through the front door, and poured me onto the carpet in front of a small crowd of bemused whores, yelling “Fuck this guy!” and throwing hundred-dollar bills in the air like candy at the Fourth of July parade.

Then there was the time at a party somewhere in the Avenues, not far from the University, swill as deep as our ankles, Bill for some reason wearing a dress, that I jumped out of a second story window to prove something and fortunately landed in a bush, though I did hook the gutter on the way down and rip it off the building, tearing a huge hole in my pants but emerging unscathed. I was happy because Bill then appeared downstairs laughing, his eyes big as dinner plates. The things we do for the respect of our friends.

And once we rocketed over across the salt flats to Wendover on a whim to gamble all night and the dealer, when we asked her where she was from, replied “Around,” and kept on dealing. As the cash ran low, threatening our gaming, Bill thought it would be fun and profitable to try to pimp me to a swarthy, desperate truck driver, and actually tried to do so until I declined as gracefully as I could. The Ambassador died on the way back across the dawn-streaked desert and we had to hitch back to Nevada and hand over our last shekels to ride the Greyhound home.

Bill insisted on having a private nickname for everyone. I was Ratman. Larry Levis was Catman. Wyn Cooper was Wynsome. Ellen, his long-suffering girlfriend, who was, of all things, a librarian, became Chuckles. Jan Van Arsdale, another grad student, was the Barbados Sex Slave, Barbados for short. Brandon, his younger son, was Chopper. And so on. Including professors. He even had nicknames for himself: Fatman, Orb, the Wump, Wumpy, Dr. Wumpenhouser, and towards the end of his life, when he owned and rented real estate in northern California, Wumply of Wump Towers, or Trumply of Lucerne. Here we come close to poetry again. Bill lived hard and when you were his friend (or his enemy) he insisted on-no, didn’t insist, merely instituted via charisma-his own rules, his own way of relating. And so he would rename you, just as would a poet. It was no use objecting. And it was so good-humored that it usually stuck.

Then there was the time Bill went on a particularly wild two-week tear and for some reason had a goddamn big car he’d rented in Texas, and Ellen asked me to drive it back to Dallas for him because he just couldn’t, they’d buy me a plane ticket home.  And so a few days later there I was, somewhere between Laramie and Cheyenne, looking up at the cold, clear stars while a ground blizzard obscured the highway and the wind blew the trunk of the car open and started pushing it down the road using that lifted piece of metal like a sail as I passed jackknifed semis that looked like expired dinosaurs. And I remember thinking to myself the obvious things, e.g., “Bill, you’re a jerk,” and “This is ridiculous,” and “Well, at least we’re saving money on gas,” and “I hope I don’t die.”

Or the time we went skiing and Ellen froze with fear on an intermediate trail and he lay down on the snow and reached into his jacket pocket, pulled out a fistful of whisky minis and started tossing them up the hill, saying “Rattie, give these to Chuckles, she needs some encouragement.”

When I caught mono, Bill was the one who came to my apartment with Brandon and climbed the fire escape with Chinese soup and ice cream, the only things I could eat because my tonsils were the size of golf balls. And once Bill was laughing at a joke and sat down in a chair at Wyn’s and he was so big the chair literally burst into kindling, depositing him on the floor and before he started laughing again I remember seeing such a wounded look in his eyes, as if he might burst into tears.

But these are just details. This is the important thing to remember: Bill was generous and he was kind. He was also a good composition teacher, at least at times. He was a jerk, he could be paranoid, he broke certain laws with impunity, he could be obnoxious and infantile, and there’s no question but that his addictions killed him, but he could be the sweetest, most charming person alive. Actually, he was a lot nicer than a lot of dead people, too.

Any of Bill’s friends could go on like this at great length. These are mere highlights. And of course not all the stories would be happy ones, because Bill was an addict and he did on occasion lose it, to the point that people, even people who loved him, wouldn’t let him live with them. And they were right to make that decision. I appreciate this all the better because it was a connection of Bill’s, strangely enough, who got me a job teaching in a drug rehab for adolescents in Salt Lake, where I began to understand how addiction works. I’d say that we shouldn’t have enabled Bill, but to be honest, this was one very committed man and it probably wouldn’t have made much difference if we tried to stop him.

I did confront him a few times. Didn’t talk to him for a while when, a few years ago, he was in a rehab in San Diego and I visited from Orange County, where I was then living. Got a bit angry with him when he started telling me about his plans for growing dope in his cellar while we were sitting in his room at the rehab. He looked so hurt that I would suggest he was being stupid, and then he said something like “Ratty, I just came down here to relax…”  Welcome to Merry Mount Rehab. Before that, after he’d gotten hepatitis, he did sober up for a few years-but he was who he was, they were his choices. And his 61 years were pretty big. Lots of people who eat their spinach don’t live that long.

And in an interesting way this is the point where poetry comes back into the story. I look around at the world of American poetry, and I wonder if there’s any kind of a place in it for the kind of love I-and many others-felt for this man, his contradictions, his energy, his vitality. Because the feelings associated with knowing someone like Bill were big feelings, often dark ones, but also often joyful and wonderful. He was like a force of nature. Actually, he was alive, so why not just call him a force of nature. And we have nature poetry, don’t we?

I can imagine the objections: what you’re talking about is fiction, not poetry. It’s all character and narrative. That’s not what poetry is for at this late hour. And anyways, it sounds like he was just another narcissist who never grew up. Not only is poetry not about that kind of thing, but the man hardly deserves it.

Wrong on all counts. I simply cannot accept it. And I have a smoking pistol, Wyn Cooper’s famous poem about Bill, “Fun.”

“All I want to do is have a little fun

Before I die,” says the man next to me

Out of nowhere, apropos of nothing. He says

His name’s William but I’m sure he’s Bill

Or Billy, Mac or Buddy; He’s plain ugly to me,

And I wonder if he’s ever had fun in his life.

We are drinking beer at noon on Tuesday,

In a bar that faces a giant car wash.

The good people of the world are washing their cars

On their lunch hours, hosing and scrubbing

As best they can in skirts and suits.

They drive their shiny Datsuns and Buicks

Back to the phone company, the record store,

The genetic engineering lab, but not a single one

Appears to be having fun like Billy and me.

I like a good beer buzz early in the day,

And Billy likes to peel the labels

From his bottles of Bud and shred them on the bar.

Then he lights every match in an oversized pack,

Letting each one burn down to his thick fingers

Before blowing and cursing them out.

A happy couple enters the bar, dangerously close

To one another, like this is a motel,

But they clean up their act when we give them

A Look. One quick beer and they’re out,

Down the road and in the next state

For all I care, smiling like idiots.

We cover sports and politics and once,

When Billy burns his thumb and lets out a yelp,

The bartender looks up from his want-ads.

Otherwise the bar is ours, and the day and the night

And the car wash too, the matches and the Buds

And the clean and dirty cars, the sun and the moon

And every motel on this highway.It’s ours, you hear?

And we’ve got plans, so relax and let us in-

All we want is to have a little fun.

I still remember reading that poem in manuscript when we were in Utah, and laughing at it, or rather with it, since I’d had similar times with Bill and Wyn and others. Then it appeared in Wyn’s first book, The Country of Here Below (Ahsata, 1987).Then, a few years later, when Wyn was in Vermont and I was in New York, I visited and he played me a demo tape by an unknown singer named Sheryl Crow, who had somehow found the book and set the poem to music with only a few changes. And it’s important to note that Crow’s hit, “All I Wanna Do,” has almost no melody-it’s just Wyn’s words (or most of them) over a good beat with a catchy hook that repeats Billy’s famous aphorism again and again and throws in a rhyme and the sun coming up over Santa Monica Boulevard.

The rest, as they say, is history. Crow’s album sold over nine million copies, the song won the Grammy for Best Song of 1994, and Wyn, who had been careful to get a good contract, more or less retired. Line for line, Wyn’s poem is probably known by more people, and has made more money, than almost any other poem originally published as a literary work in English. The only comparable lyrics I can think of off-hand are Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s use of Blake, or the Beatles’ lift of Dekker’s “Golden Slumbers Steal Your Eyes.” And those guys were English. And the poets involved were dead when it happened, so it hardly counts. In America, there’s “America the Beautiful” and “The Star-Spangled Banner.” We’re at a pretty high level here. But prove me wrong. And I love the idea of Ripley, the Lord of Misrule, hanging out with Francis Scott Key and Katherine Lee Bates. Having a cocktail. Dekker and Blake as butlers. Planning a production of Comus, the director’s cut, with an alternative ending.

The year Crow’s song came out, I had moved to Crested Butte, Colorado, where I had designed the curriculum of a new college-prep, independent boarding school, chairing the English Department, teaching, administering, coaching, and so on. I was working my tail off, and I started hearing the song around the school, seeping out of headphones and from behind dorm doors. Young girls wiggling their shoulders as they sang the refrain sotto voce in study hall. It was as if Bill and Wyn were chasing me around, lurking in corners, snickering. Ha ha, you have a job. And it was hard to know what to think when I heard my young charges uttering the line I used to hear from Bill right before, for example, he fired a speedball. Of course Crow changed the song somewhat, among other things by putting the lyric onto the lips of a beautiful woman. But that only added to the confusion. If only their mothers knew.

Money makes people behave badly, and Bill wasn’t immune. He and Wyn fell out after Wyn’s success, and I expect most if not all of this was brought about by Bill. I don’t know all the details and don’t want to know, really – it’s always sad when two of your friends are fighting each other. But they didn’t speak to each other for many years, and that’s a shame. Well, as Bill used to point out when other people did foolish things, it didn’t make him a bad person. Wyn may be alluding to their battles obliquely in places, such as the third part of “Where Are the Thoughts,” a poem from his second book, The Way Back:

Someone in a club has stolen

My ideas, says the song, says

The man in the grey lawsuit

Standing at my door in the rain

Singing a terrible dirge

Of half-formed thoughts

Known as the law,

Which stands for order

But proves a maze…

He says it’s too late

His client thought it first

The law stands against me

Yes, it’s sad when your friends fight. Enough of that. This is Bill’s elegy. But here’s the rub-it’s also therefore very much about poetry, and poetry now. Wyn and I were friends, studying together, skiing together, editing at Quarterly West together, hanging out. In those days I confess I didn’t understand his poetry. It washed over me without much impact. There was an emotional vector in it that eluded me.

The poetry hasn’t changed, but I have. Perhaps I needed to feel a little more pain. Much of Wyn’s poetry is dark. He writes from a fallen world, “The Country of Here Below,” as the title of his first book states it so plainly. In that book and in his second, The Way Back, and in his most recent, Postcards from the Interior, most of the characters are unmoored, often lost, unable to put a broken world back together, or even to figure out how to start. They don’t even know the language:

Postcard from Babel

Morning light comes sideways

Through the blue glazed window.

No one moves a muscle.

Motionless birds do not sing,

But strike a songlike pose.

Later, dogs run themselves ragged in ever smaller circles.

The only words anyone hears

Are spoken from a tower

In a tongue no one knows.

This is a second coming with a shrinking gyre and not even a slouching beast to give it order, an anti-Byzantium where the golden birds are poseurs. Who can tell if it’s passionate intensity when you can’t even understand the words? And yet-we understand the language of the poem, or something of it, and that is its paradoxical, even sublime strength. We too can imagine a language we cannot understand. And to feel this emptiness, one has to be alive.

“Fun” fits clearly into this vision, with its suggestion of underlying menace, something that doesn’t quite come through in Crow’s party-girl song. Why aren’t these people working on a Tuesday afternoon, anyway? In Wyn’s poem, with their snarling request to be let in, they start to sound a little nastier than idle boys drinking beer. Are they natural-born killers? And one must acknowledge that often enough the moral gloom of the world does seem to overpower all systematic gaiety. Though it may be that the fun itself is what is so menacing. If dread is fear without an object, then perhaps fun is joy without an object, and just as disturbing. To some people.

Wyn’s muse seems to me to be a tragic one, though the outcome is not death and violence, but rather confusion, loneliness, sadness. It takes time to appreciate these things, to understand that merely getting them onto paper is a kind of triumph, a connection to vitality, perhaps like Chekhov’s. At the same time, there is often humor in Wyn’s work, as in “Fun.” Even redemption, or something like it, squints through here and there:

Postcard from a Dream

Not even the northern star could tell us where we are.

The No Trespassing sign is not in a language we know.

We walk past it, into this forest that won’t return us

the same. New sounds grow louder as night comes on.

We feel where water springs from the ground,

Follow it down the mountain to an oval lake,

Everyone is awake when we arrive, floating on houseboats

lit by candles, whistling like birds after rain.

Note again the mysterious failures of language, of all signs.  Celestial navigation is broken; a sign can be read even though it’s in an incomprehensible language-and only says “No Trespassing.” “New sounds grow louder,” but what are they? The speaker is a trespassing pilgrim.  He knows he will be transformed, but Virgil has not come to lead him through this forest. His guide is more like Samuel Beckett. Maybe Ionesco. Yet, in the end, even if Paradise is obscure, it is beautiful, musical, peaceful, sweet.

I probably couldn’t see this heartbreaking quality in Wyn’s poetry back in the day because I have a few more hopeful bones, a more Comic view of the world. But as I have accumulated my own mistakes I have come to understand that Wyn’s lyrics glitter with the light of a very richly lived American life. Highly allegorical, even though it’s hard to find the correlate of the allegories, his work is also a poetry of experience. It is poetry for people who have lived their lives. And that richly lived experience includes, among many other things in Wyn’s life, Bill. Wyn’s Bill is darker than mine-but just as truthful, and I recognize him.

Not long ago I misspent a year in Orange County, California at a relatively high-paying job that didn’t work out. It’s a long story, but after moving my family out there from Colorado, my employer and I agreed to part company after about five months. I’m still trying to figure out what happened. Though I know it did not involve fun. Sometimes, people are mean. And there I was, in my fancy house, with my beautiful wife, watching the days go by, feeling sorry for myself, trying to convince myself that because I was still alive I must be stronger, wondering what I was going to do with the rest of my life. So I got in touch with Bill, who responded with an email titled “Your Pathetic Life and What to Do About It.”

Well Ratty,

What you should do with your life is take my advice.  You’ve got children on their way to becoming elitist snots in Bush Country.  Get them out of SoCal, get them out of yuppie ski resorts, let them grow up with the blue collar folks of Lake or Mendocino county.  They can have tire swings, a little fishing boat, a house that backs up on the Mendocino National Forest, all the way to Oregon.  Your ultimate job, Ratty, is to show the kids how to relax and have fun during the apocalypse.  Don’t be so selfish.  Get rid of this have-to-work-for-money thing because you don’t have to and to still do it when you don’t have to is a sin and you contribute with your energy and taxes to the downfall of the planet.  You can work for me up here.  There are hundreds of little kids to play with up here that need to mow your lawn and help you fix up little houses and sell them.  If you fucking must, you can teach up here at Mendocino Junior College or even up at Humboldt State, a four year institution with nice views.  But what we really could have: a creative writing gig for wayward youth.  You’d love these kids.  They look like a cross between Huckleberry Finn and Sid Vicious.  Get off your high brow.  Come play with:

Trumply of Lucerne

p.s. Be somebody. We could start a treatment facility for rich workaholics who need to learn how to have sober fun.  A workaholism and fun therapy center which involves all sorts of creative or not creative fun and encourages a productive attunement with your deepest polymorphous sexual urgings.  These above all need to be blended into the successful work-free life, for western civ is going down the boring bleak tubes in a frustrated grinding of teeth and gears on the crowded freeways of most idiots’ CLICHE SODDENED minds and they need TO BE FREED BY RICH PEOPLE GIVING US MONEY TO SHOW THEM HOW TO LIVE.  We can also make it a reality TV show with lots of sex and humor which we give the kiss of a plot by manipulating the clients everyday.   Also, since it’s not drug or alcohol treatment, we don’t need licenses, but between you and me, we already have a couple of doctorates, and we’re just a few hours from Squaw Valley, if you must.  But first and foremost, my son-Blows Against The Empire!  You’re right, our pathetic lives don’t matter.  What better way to go out than by a huge countercultural resistance to tedium and bullshit and insistence on the right to have fun.  Emerson said that “the true poet writes his verse in men, not syllables.”

Get your ass up here.

Time to go to battle!!!

If any of this raises your hackles, gentle reader, I have to wonder if you’ve ever had a day of fun in your life.  Woe to the youth or maiden who does but dream of a dance! Mr. Endicott, your sword. Chop down the May-Pole, censor Falstaff, deny Dionysus, send home the clowns, and take all this as mere allegory for one of the most real toads ever to inhabit an imaginary garden. Though I assure you it was all real and to those of you still shaking your heads: you remind me of Pentheus in his tree. You are in peril.Repent!

Yes, come, you blind mouths. The two-handed engine is a Harley. As Bill once wrote, everything is tenuous and fragile. The road shimmers like a song. As for myself, I’d never deny such a man wherever I met him. Though I might hide the Jack. I am so sad he is gone, but so glad he existed. He lived his life, he was one of Diana’s foresters, a gentleman of the shade, a minion of the moon.

It’s a big country out there and rumors of the death of American poetry are greatly exaggerated. Bill is one of the indigestible shoes in its stomach. So tomorrow to fresh woods and pastures new. Don’t you want to have a little fun before you die?[/private]

About David J. Rothman

David J. Rothman was born in Northampton, Massachusetts in 1959. He did his undergraduate work at Harvard and then received an MA in English from the University of Utah and a PhD in English from New York University. He has lived in Crested Butte, Colorado, since 1993. In the 1990s he co-founded and served as the first Executive Director of the Crested Butte Music Festival and then became the third Headmaster of Crested Butte Academy, an independent boarding and day school. He has also served as Executive Director of the Robinson Jeffers Association and is the founding Publisher and Editor of Conundrum Press, a small press devoted to writers of the west, especially poets. Rothman is the author of three books of poetry, Dominion of Shadow (1996), The Elephant’s Chiropractor (1998), which was a finalist for the 1999 Colorado Book Award, and Beauty at Night (2002). He is also the editor of The Geography of Hope: Poets of Colorado’s Western Slope. His poems have appeared in Agni, Appalachia, The Atlantic, The Gettysburg Review, The Kenyon Review, The Literary Review, Mountain Gazette, Poetry, and scores of other journals.
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  1. This is truly beautiful. I knew that Sheryl Crow had written the song “All I Wanna Do” from a poem she found — but had no idea of the backstory nor who it was about. God Bless Wyn for writing it — and bless you for capturing Bill’s true spirit. He was a real man, wasn’t he?

  2. The above was a an interesting read. I wanted to learn more about Bill or William Louis Ripley, II, Ph.D. and found this

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